United Way releases analysis of Huron-Perth mental health and addiction supports

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United Way Perth Huron’s Social Research and Planning Council has taken a closer look at the state of the region’s mental health and addiction supports as local service providers prepare to promote Canadian Mental Health Week over the next several days.

“What we’re trying to do is help the community understand that service providers are working together in a co-ordinated fashion across the region to improve those services,” said Ryan Erb, the executive director of the local United Way. “We need to make the system better and we need to make it more available to people. What we’re really concerned about, and have been concerned about for a long time, is that the demand for service continues to far outpace the availability of the services being provided.”

The Social Research and Planning Council’s newest report is available online. It offers an update on local efforts to improve services, focuses in on outstanding challenges, and reviews a 10-year, $3.8-billion provincial government plan to develop and implement a mental health and addictions system in Ontario.

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“I think the ideas are there,” Erb said about the government’s so-called Roadmap to Wellness. “The question is whether or not it’s followed through with enough funding. Although the process began before the pandemic, I think it’s a strong document and it moves the system forward.”

This isn’t the first time the Social Research and Planning Council has taken an inventory of the region’s mental health infrastructure. The group completed a similar report in 2008 before releasing a subsequent study on substance abuse and problem gambling in 2012.

But plenty has changed since then according to this year’s report, which acknowledges the isolating global pandemic and the long-term impact it’s expected to leave on Canadians and their social safety net. That includes Huron-Perth, where a 2020 study by the United Way and the University of Guelph showed preliminary evidence of an overall decrease in the mental health and wellness of area residents since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

How mental health and addictions issues are being addressed in Huron-Perth has also changed significantly since 2012, the new report said. 

For example, more than 60 health-care partners in the region successfully established a local Ontario Health Team in 2019 that included a working group called the Huron Perth Mental Health and Addictions Network, a voluntary committee of service providers and other community partners with a vested interest in discussing service issues, needs, gaps and priorities.

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That means additional collaboration in the region, which already includes groups such as the Huron Perth Addiction and Mental Health Alliance and the Huron Perth Child and and Youth Mental Health Network, among others.

Many issues area service providers are facing haven’t changed, however. Wait times, barriers to access, lack of funding and uneven quality of services are problems highlighted in the report that have existed for years.

Service capacity is another. As an example, the Huron-Perth Centre for Children and Youth, a community-based children’s mental health centre, can serve around 1,250 children and youth per year, but the number who need support is closer to 4,000, the report said.

“Ultimately, the reality is there’s more funding needed,” Erb said.

In the meantime, the United Way and others are encouraging residents to think about their mental health and wellness this week. 

The Huron-Perth Centre for Children and Youth is promoting Canadian Mental Health Week with a music and art showcase on its social media pages this week. The Tanner Steffler Foundation, another area mental health and addictions service provider, is asking the community to nominate local champions of mental health and wellness.

“I think what we want to do is make sure we do our best to reduce stigma around mental health,” Erb said. “We want to encourage people to reach out for the help that they need. (There are) lots of services and I realize they’re not perfect and that there are sometimes wait times, but there’s still a lot of resources in our community that I think people don’t realize are there.”

cmontanini@postmedia.com

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